NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War.
Rice said in a statement Saturday that she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation.
“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”
The decision prompted many, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to weigh in via Twitter.
The school’s board of governors had voted to pay the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser $35,000 for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony.
But some students and faculty had protested, staging sit-ins and saying Rice bore some responsibility for the Iraq War as a member of the Bush administration. Barchi and other school leaders had resisted the calls to dis-invite Rice, saying the university welcomes open discourse on controversial topics.
Junior Brian Vinogradov said that he respects Rice’s decision but said that her withdrawal is Rutgers’ loss.
“Rutgers looks a little bad right now because a lot of people say, ‘hey, you had Snookie two years ago and now you’re rejecting Condoleeza Rice,'” he said.
Students who spoke with 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten had mixed reactions to the decision.
“We should reconsider who we’re actually trying to bring here for commencement speaker,” Kevin said.
But Samantha disagreed, saying “I think she would have had a lot to offer.”
A senior told Baumgarten said many of the protesters were underclassman and that it wasn’t their business to get involved in who would speak at her graduation.
Professor Mark Killingsworth was part of a faculty group that led the protest and said that the group was concerned about the honorary degree that Rice was set to receive.
In her statement, Rice defended her record, saying that she was honored to serve her country and that she had “defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas.” But she said she didn’t want to detract from the spirit of the commencement ceremony.
Barchi said Saturday in a statement that Rutgers stands “fully behind the invitation” it issued to Rice. But he said school officials respect her decision.
“Now is the time to focus on our commencement, a day to celebrate the accomplishments and promising futures of our graduates,” Barchi said.
The university said it would provide details in the coming days on who would replace Rice as commencement speaker. She is now a professor of political science at Stanford University.
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